The Baptist minister of whom I speak also taught in a Baptist theological college for many years, and was later a president of the Baptist Union of Queensland, so he was highly respected in the denomination to which I once belonged. In sermon after sermon I was taught---yes, brainwashed---by one narrow-minded and bigoted minister after another a very narrow and exclusivist system of Biblical exegesis and conservative evangelical (and at times fundamentalist) doctrine. Indeed, the doctrinal system preached was an unwarranted imposition upon sacred scripture of a rigid ideology---yes, ideology---an artificial construct that was never part of the original teachings of the religion or its founder.
While I am on the subject of evangelicals and fundamentalists, I like what the San Francisco journalist and columnist Herb Caen said about so-called 'born again Christians.' He said, ‘The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.’ How true! No wonder these sorts of religious organizations turn so many people into atheists. When I think of the inward-looking and for the most part financially very well-off Baptists in my old church---actually, I try not to think of them at all---I am reminded of some words written by the American Episcopalian priest (and de facto cofounder of the wonderful organization Alcoholics Anonymous) Dr Sam Shoemaker [pictured right]. He referred to people such as these as 'comfortable evangelicals, hugging personal salvation to themselves, living off the sweat of underpaid labour, blind to their own guilt for social injustice, and fattening their souls for heaven.' Great stuff! I wish I'd written that.
Back to Alcoholics Anonymous for a moment. Do you know that none of the Baptist ministers I have known---and I have known a lot---had ever stepped into an AA meeting-room? What's more, none of them had the slightest desire to go to one, to see the transformations that can and do take place in the lives of otherwise hopeless and powerless alcoholics. You'd think they'd be interested in spiritual healing. After all, the man they purported to worship as Lord went about the countryside healing and casting out devils. No, they had no interest in the subject at all. Perhaps they were frightened they'd meet a bunch of active full-on drunks. Far from it. Or maybe they still saw alcoholism as being a sin or moral weakness as opposed to a disease. Few knew anything at all about the subject. It's largely the same today, at least among evangelical pastors. (Catholic priests, to their credit, are generally better educated on the matter.)
I say this: more miracles---and I mean true life-changing miracles---take place in AA [and other 12-step group] meeting-rooms than in churches ... on all days of the week. People wake up to the reality of their true selves, and discard all that is false, and a chronic, progressive and terminal illness is arrested. Now, that is real salvation. One last thing. I've even heard some Baptist pastors, and some from other conservative evangelical denominations as well, attack AA as being a 'cult,' or even 'of the Devil'---because of (quote) 'all that "Higher Power" and "God as you understand Him" stuff ... why, there's no mention of Jesus Christ at all in those Twelve Steps!' Speaking personally, I'm mighty glad there isn't. Get real, the lot of you. Wake up! Listen to what the greatest Baptist thinker of his time, Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick [pictured left], had to say about the life-changing power of AA: ‘I have listened to many learned arguments about God, but for honest-to-goodness experiential evidence of God, His power personally appropriated and His reality indubitably assured, give me a good meeting of AA!’
Now, you may say, ‘Ellis-Jones, isn’t that---what you’ve just described---some belief of yours?’ I say, ‘No, not at all. I am simply describing and experiencing what is---as it unfolds. I offer no judgment, interpretation, or analysis of what is. I let ‘it’ speak for itself. Such is the nature of Truth. It is not a matter of opinion.’ I have no time for beliefs at all, whether those beleifs be religious, political, or whatever. I oppose all belief-systems. I like what the American author and speaker Vernon Howard [pictured below] said about beliefs. He said, ‘People assume that beliefs can open the highway to happiness, when in fact a man's beliefs keep him on endless detours. The reason beliefs cannot sustain anyone is because life's events do not believe in beliefs.’ You see, there's reality .. and there's beliefs about reality. I choose the former. It is more than enough. While I'm on the subject of beliefs, here's another gem of profound spiritual wisdom from Vernon Howard, a man who always told it like it is: ‘There is hope for whoever does not know what to believe. Human belief is a combination of superstition, gullibility and mental laziness. We need not believe anything; we need to find, to see, to know.’